“If the features of the product or service you have selected to produce are validated and verified, then it will be more likely that the project development investment will increase your competitive edge, but you should consider discovering what customers do in addition to what they say about your product or service.”
Focus groups are popular ways to learn about people’s opinions, thoughts, and reactions to new features of products and services. They are used to gather information about how people feel and think about something that otherwise cannot be obtained by surveys or questionnaires. Unfortunately, biases can creep in. And without careful construction and execution the results can be misleading.
One of the most publicized examples of market research use of focus groups is the 1985 introduction of the new Coke. Mere weeks after its release, it was evident by the flood of complaints that the new Coke was not well received after all and the backlash caused the company to reintroduce its previous formula as Coca-Cola Classic. What went wrong?
A widespread explanation for the misleading results of the focus groups was that the wrong questions were asked. Other reasons point out that the right questions were asked, but the effects of social influence were not regarded well enough. Regardless of the conclusion about the use of focus groups to assess customer wants, you will be well served to employ additional methods. One such method is to observe what customers do.
Research Behaviors Too
In order to understand how features will be and are perceived, in addition to using focus groups or surveys, consider researching customer behaviors around your product or service in environments as close to real as possible.
First determine what is to be accomplished by the research. In the case of feature validation and verification, this kind of effort should focus on definition research and evaluation research.
Next, decide on who will be your informants or customers. Recruiting informants involves selections based on attitudes, personalities, value systems, behaviors, and experiences that match the objectives of the research. After determining the initial pool of candidates, they are screened using surveys.
Finally, determine how you will observe customer behavior either as a participant or non-participant. Many options are available for this including observing product users directly, interviewing, using field journals, recording audio, images, and recording video.
“Deal with the world as it is, not how you'd like it to be.” - Jack Welch
Learning customer wants and needs by conducting research that examines customer behavior with your product or service is a valuable addition to other tools that are available to validate and verify proposed features. Without knowing how your product or service is used in realistic environments, it will be difficult to develop a competitive set of features that are valued by your customers.